How will El Chapo's recapture affect Mexico and narco-trafficking?
Behind the drama of the manhunt and the surreal involvement of Sean Penn, the rearrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán constitutes a fascinating and important moment for Mexico and the world of narco-traffic. But we cannot yet be sure how and why it is crucial.
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There are some certainties: Guzmán is not a mobster, he is a businessman – an astute one – dealing in a commodity upon which our societies are as depressingly dependent as they are on oil: cocaine and other hard drugs, including heroin and methamphetamine. When the financial news reports the current price of an oil barrel or value of bullion, it ought to add the day’s rating for a kilo of pure cocaine, if we are to know what is really going on in the global economy.
Guzmán’s business is assured by the fact that there is no chance of our dependency on drugs abating, any more than there is of our banks being suddenly unwilling to welcome its vast profits.
Just because Wachovia and HSBC got caught – and admitted to – facilitating Guzmán’s cartel business (and may have stopped) means merely that now some other bank is doing so. The whole show goes on and on – and in this regard, Guzmán’s comment to Penn that drug use will continue after his demise is spot-on.
But in what way might the plates have shifted in what narco-traffic calls la plaza – the turf – to bring about this rearrest? And how will the business, and the violence, be affected?
The first possibility is that it has been staged in some way, and that Guzmán will do what he has always done (and as his predecessor Pablo Escobar did in Colombia): run the business from jail. And even if Guzmán is neutralised in prison, an heir could take over the cartel and run it on his principles.
Both of these scenarios presume that the Sinaloa cartel, the world’s biggest and richest criminal syndicate, remains so and enjoys a relationship with the Mexican state – or sufficient elements within it - which involves conviviality at best, complicity at worst.
The alliance, such as it has existed for decades between the state and Guzmán (and his ancestry in the old Guadalajara cartel), is logical: the old-fashioned corporate “pyramid” cartel is best equipped to keep order, the “pax mafiosa”.
Contrary to popular belief, the mafia prefers peace to war, and things get violent – and did so in Mexico in 2006 - when the plaza becomes unquiet, not when power is exercised effectively.
But there comes a point when the state’s ally in the criminal world becomes so powerful that it constitutes a state-within-a-state, and too great of a threat. This is what happened to Escobar’s Medellin cartel in Colombia, and the time came to take him out.
It could be that diaster-prone Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto (or, at least, the oligarchy that represents “permanent Mexico”) judges that moment to have arrived, and that this arrest is for real; many expert commentators have posited that it seemed so, that Guzmán does not appear cock-of-the-walk this time around.
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It may well be that Peña Nieto cannot risk a further tragicomic embarrassment in the appalling farce of his presidency to date, and a further outcome of the arrest is that Guzmán is extradited to the US. That the US will claim its quarry and try Guzmán themselves, with no chance of any miraculous “escapes”.
This would create a compelling situation: Guzmán has very good friends in very high places north of the border as well as on the Mexican side, not least in financial and arms-dealing circles. If he were to play his cards intelligently in court, he could bring a lot of high-level people down. For this reason, the trial of the century to date would be probably be held in secret – and there is a precedent template for this: the conviction in Houston of Guzmán’s principal rival, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, founder and then leader of Los Zetas, which we in the press tried desperately but in vain to witness.
Which brings us to a last, intriguing – and potentially terrifying - possibility. The Sinaloa cartel is the last of the old patrician, corporate cartels – akin, on more familiar terrain, to the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. Guzmán is the last old-school “don”, the last Robin Hood narco.
In Sinaloa, he is praised and admired more than he is feared or hated. He distributes alms of sorts; his serfs will tell you how he flew their sick child to hospital in his plane, gave flowers to the church on Mother’s Day, provided electricity to a school. Contrast this to the situation in places controlled by Cárdenas’ Zetas: you would be ill advised to even mention their name. Their rule is a vice grip based on sheer terror, not baronial patronage.
Just as Cosa Nostra was overtaken first by the Neapolitan Camorra and Calabrian ’Ndrangheta, so there is the chance that the Sinaloa cartel is damaged, buckling under the intensity of the assaults on its hegemony by the ferocious Zetas and their allies (among them the Beltran Leyva cartel, which was once part of El Chapo’s federation).
Narco-cartels are not adversaries of global capitalism, nor even pastiches of it: they are its role models. Free trade across the Americas was invented not by Bill Clinton and the presidents of Mexico and Canada, but Escobar.
But that was another generation, that which raised Guzmán. In the world of narco-genealogy, which is no different from the generational evolution of any corporation, new cartels like the Zetas set the scene for our world of pure, unfettered capitalism in the wake of the now outdated patrician corporate model. They are leaner and meaner, with a more appositely brutal understanding of the vicissitudes of the cocaine market, and the many others in which they operate on cocaine’s slipstream.
It is possible that the advance of the Zetas and their allies forms part of the backstage behind Guzmán’s arrest, that Guzmán can no longer be relied upon to deliver the pax mafiosa, that elements of the state controlled by or loyal to Guzmán now find that this is no protection. The deep trouble exploded in 2006 when the plaza was contested (by the Gulf cartel and Zetas in the north-east, and La Familia in Michoacan) and the state decided to become a player in the game; and the more the sands shift, the more the violence intensifies.
If the advance of these new, Zeta-led cartels in the narco-nightmare is part of the story behind the arrest, then it can only get worse before it gets better – if it ever does.
Ed Vulliamy is author of Amexica: War Along the Borderline, published by Picador USA and Vintage UK
To the immense relief of Mexico’s embattled President Enrique Peña Nieto, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the world’s most wanted businessman, has been caught. The last time Guzmán was detained, in February 2014, Peña Nieto decided to keep him in the custody of Mexico’s penitentiary system. Within 16 months, El Chapo had escaped – a big blow to Nieto’s already deeply tarnished reputation.
This time around, the pressure to extradite Guzmán to the U.S., where he faces trial on a plethora of charges, could be too much to bear. But how much difference will Guzmán’s arrest and extradition to the U.S. actually make to the massive — and growing — trade in illegal drugs between Mexico and the United States? According to El Chapo himself, very little.
If Guzmán is extradited, he will no longer be able to pull the strings of his global business like before. But someone else will, most likely his second in command, Ismael Zambada. Meanwhile, El Chapo’s capture and extradition is likely to unleash even more violence in Mexico as the cartels engage in new turf wars while using whatever means necessary to resist capture and extradition to the U.S.
The last time Guzmán was arrested, his business empire barely skipped a beat. In fact, as El País reports, it grew, expanding its market both at home and abroad. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, a quarter of all drugs consumed in the U.S. are now distributed by Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel. The vast revenues generated by the cartel’s sales of cocaine, marijuana, and meta-amphetamine, both in the U.S. and around the world, are laundered through a complex network of 280 businesses in 10 countries.
At the beginning of the global financial crisis, Antonio María Costa, the former Under-Secretary of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, warned that the European banking system had lowered its security barriers, opening the financial floodgates to drugs money. To this day not a single European government or politician has responded to Costa’s accusation that the European financial system was as good as saved by the global drugs trade — none more so than everybody’s favorite offshore tax haven, the City of London.
Describing the international drug trade, organized crime expert Roberto Saviano recently told the Independent on Sunday that “Mexico is its heart and London is its head.” According to the British government’s own National Crime Agency, “hundreds of billions of US dollars” are laundered through banks in the United Kingdom every year – banks that have flagrantly ignored “know your customer rules,” which are designed to prevent criminals from laundering the profits of their illegal activities.
Re: Let’s Not Kid Ourselves: The Capture of the World’s Most Wanted Businessman Changes Nothing
I don't think the writer is up to date on the turf wars. The biggest threat right now in CDS is the infighting going on among themselves. And I'm not surprised that London has become the money laundering center for drugs as the presence of British nationals in and around Culiacan can be seen.